|Private Baldrick, included at last|
A key stage of the process is “discharging assumptions” at the end. For any argument, there have to be assumptions spelled out in advance: if THIS, then THAT. Don’t ask me over 30 years later to describe exactly how that’s done – I was shaky on it even then – but the gist of it is that you kick away the supporting blocks of your argument to see if it still stands up without them. If it does then you know you have a good piece of logic on your hands and you can now get on with determining the great imponderables of the universe.
Recently I was preaching on the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, which I argued was the real end of the Old Testament (living under law) and the start of the New (living under grace). I remembered Private Baldrick’s little speech in Blackadder Goes Forth questioning how the First World War began: “these days there's a war on, right? and, ages ago, there wasn't a war on, right? So, there must have been a moment when there not being a war on went away, right? and there being a war on came along … ” I thought I would rework this, for a laugh, into how one testament went away and the other came along.
And so the sermon developed and was, though I say so myself, quite good. (You can hear it yourself … ) But there was one thing that just wasn’t working about it … and I eventually concluded it was Baldrick. Take him out, and the whole thing worked a lot better.
A few years ago I thought that a short story I had written could make the basis of a good novel. I promoted a secondary character to the lead, and extended his own story forwards and backwards and outwards. And I had a novel … which just didn’t work, until I actually stripped out everything relating to the original story. It left holes, which I had to fill with new, added plot, but the novel was much better as a result. It saw daylight as The Teen, the Witch & the Thief.
A useful lesson for writers is that inspiration is just that – inspiration. It is not something with a contractual obligation to be included in the final piece of work. Is something that once seemed such a great idea now actually holding your even better idea back? Kick it away and see what happens!